As myths go this could be one of the most disempowering out there. I’ve heard the words, “You’re better off with the real thing (meaning say a normal can of Coke) because the diet versions are even worse for you due to all those artificial sweetners”. It didn’t take much for this one to catch fire and spread like wildfire around the globe. Luckily there is scientific literature we can look at to see whether there is any truth behind the far too easily taken advice from that colleague at work!
So the big one is that artificial sweeteners cause a response in our insulin release, much in the same way a normal can of coke would (due to the quantity of actual sugar in it). If we remember back to this post, Insulin is the hormone that regulates the levels of glucose in our blood. A study by Renwick & Molinary (2010) found that there was no consistent evidence that intense sweeteners cause insulin release or lower blood sugar in normal subjects.
So what does the science say if we replace caloric sweenters found in normal drinks like Coke with low-calorie sweetener alternatives found in the likes of Coke Zero? Well a Meta-analysis of 15 RCT’s by Miller & Perez (2014) showed switching resulted in a significant reduction in BMI, Fat mass and Waist circumference! That’s pretty impressive and adds more weight to the argument of small wins when it comes to reducing Calorie intake for weight maintenance or getting into a Calorie deficit.
For a balanced view it’s interesting to note that there are some studies showing that low kcal sweeteners were significantly associated with higher BMI. The big thing here is that these studies only show an association between higher BMI and diet drinks.
But wait what about Aspartame????
Let’s keep this short and to the point. Aspartame scare stories and conspiracy theories started in the US in the 1970s-80s when it was published that too much would give you Cancer. What wasn’t mentioned was these were all carried out using animal studies and the amount of Aspartame used was in doses no human being would ever be consuming. Our fear of the unknown then took grasp and the myth was born that to be honest hasn’t really gone away today.
Whilst there is still lots of research being carried out on Artifical sweeteners in general, from a health and weight loss perspective, replacing caloric foods/drinks with low-calorie sweetener alternatives will work and there is no strong evidence for the negative effects of sweeteners on health